It’s 8 o’clock at a family supper. Juan and Maria, two close friends planning to get married, have invited me to their home. The objective of the meal is for the families of each one to meet each other. Juan has been to Maria’s house many times and Mary has often been to Juan’s house, but today is the official introduction of the “in-laws” and the wedding must be discussed.
Juan is the son of a wealthy family from Barcelona. His father is an important business man with a number of businesses. He has a big, energetic personality, like all good entrepreneurs. His mother is from a city near Barcelona called Lerida and met her husband at a gathering of young business people. They are quite well off. Juan is a simple man, works hard and is deeply concerned by many social issues, which doesn’t quite fit in with the stereotype of someone with a “good” background. He has a number of economics related masters’ degrees and hopes to carry on with the family business.
Maria is from a working class family. She comes from a poor neighbourhood in Cornella (on the outskirts of Barcelona) and her parents work in different companies in the metal industry. They have both always been fighters: always taking part in workers’ protests and her father was even in prison for a time during Franco’s dictatorship. Her mother fell in love with him because of his social leadership qualities. Both are trade union leaders in the companies where they work and they are committed to defending workers’ rights. Maria is a very strong woman, working part time and studying at the same time. She has also studied economics and has done very well. She wants to work for a fairer world.
They open the door and I go inside. I am the last to arrive and I find everyone in the garden eating nibbles. All the men, I’m not really sure why, stand in a circle and the women form another, each group talking about “their things”, until we are called to take our places at the supper table.
The starter is served along with some wine. Everything is going well until we start talking about politics; the conversation becomes strained because very different ideological stand points are taken and everyone is convinced that their political orientation is the best to govern with.
The main course is served along with the tensest moment, perhaps the moment that had most worried Juan and Maria. Juan’s father talks about his businesses and the difficulties they are currently going through. Maria’s father is quick to react and accuses business leaders of never thinking about the workers and only looking out for their own profits. A heavy debate ensues that takes a progressively personal angle.
Things are not going well and so I decide to intervene in the conversation: “It seems to me that the point of this gathering is to talk about Juan and Maria’s wedding and not Mr Adam Smith and Karl Marx”. My joke seems to break the ice and we are able to carry on talking in peace. I take this opportunity to make the following observation: “thanks to the way history has worked out we have all been born. I don’t know why we argue so much, because if Juan hadn’t been born into a family of business people, he wouldn’t have been born at all and if Maria hadn’t been born into a working class family, she wouldn’t have been born at all. They are not to blame for what has happened. On the contrary, they are very pleased about it, because thanks to this, they now know each other, love each other and wish to marry each other. They have taken the most intelligent option, to be friends and do what they can to make the world a better place.
We waste so much energy on historical resentments, instead of concerning ourselves with current issues and making the situation better. We cannot be heirs to tensions that predated us and we must do our best to ride above this inheritance. We cannot live our lives worrying over situations that are past history, that with our very attitude we manage to reproduce in the present. Think about your children; without you they wouldn’t exist. The best way to prepare for your children’s wedding is to clean your heart of prejudices and resentments and make friends”.
The meal continued. They were quick to agree on everything relating to the wedding.
After supper, Juan and Maria walked me home. They were happy with the way the evening had gone and felt sure their parents would end up being good friends; they would help to make it happen. “One of the most difficult things about weddings is doing the guest seating plan”, I said to them on the way home. “I urge you to break with tradition, overcome social class divisions and be brave enough to mix up the guests and make new friendships. That’s the best gift you could give for the future.”